I received two high-end yoga mats for Christmas. When I mentioned this to my yoga teacher, she laughed and said, “I guess people really want you to breathe.”
Until recently, I would have told you that yoga isn’t my thing. Over the years, I had attended a class or two, but invariably, unfamiliar with the poses and always one step behind (Left? Right?), I would leave feeling graceless and defeated.
For me, yoga spelled nothing but stress.
Right before the pandemic, I gave it another try. I decided this time, rather than concern myself with my classmates’ synchronized breaths, I’d concentrate on me. How I was feeling, how I was breathing.
What does this have to do with type 2 diabetes? A great deal. Practicing yoga is not about perfectly mirroring the poses or the pace of the people around you. And neither is diabetes care. Sure, we all try to adhere to basic precepts: cutting down carbs, keeping track of our sugars, exercising, reducing stress. But no two of us accomplishes this in precisely the same way. Some people can comfortably fit a sugary dessert once or twice into their eating plans; for others, a cup of ice cream sends their sugars to the sky. A brisk walk around the block might be all some people need to keep sugars in check; others need medications once or twice or three times a day.
Doctors and other caregivers can offer guidance. They can prescribe medications, recommend nutritionists, even map out exercise plans. But no matter how good the plan or the prescription, if it’s something you can’t or don’t want to follow, it will never work.
My diabetes care, like my yoga practice, is uniquely my own.
Before I returned to yoga, I asked myself a question: Why? Why did I want to start again? The answer surprised me: I wanted to test myself, to see if I might make my body accomplish something new.
Soon after I restarted yoga, the pandemic hit, and classes moved online. No longer surrounded by more advanced students, my practice began to feel freer. In the privacy of my basement, I could start and stop whenever I wanted. I could even abandon or add a pose. Gradually, over months, I noticed that my left leg in a three-legged dog rose higher than it had at the start; that when I rose into a warrior pose, I didn’t feel as if I might collapse to the floor. And at times, most exciting of all, muscle memory took over, allowing me to shift from one posture to the next without conscious thought.
Which brought to mind diabetes care and how so many things that had once seemed difficult -- exercising, following a low-carb diet, taking my sugars -- had also, over time, become second nature. And how I now follow them with a kind of muscle memory.
Choosing to practicing yoga is not the same as taking care of a chronic disease. But maybe, rather than starting the years with a raft of impossible-to-keep resolutions, this might be the year that you ask yourself a single question: Why? Why do you want to take care of your diabetes? It might be to avoid complications in case you contract COVID, to live longer, to feel better. All that matters is that it makes sense to you.
And then, armed with your answer, get going.
Just as I don’t expect to ever stand on my head or float in the air, your end game doesn’t have to be to lose a certain amount of weight or run a marathon, unless that is what you believe will get you to your "why." What matters is feeling comfortable with the choices you make to reach better health -- because those are things that you will actually do.
And maybe, in time, your habits will become second nature, too.
No one says this is easy. It might feel odd to check your sugars more frequently or order salad when everyone else in the family downs thick crust pizza with extra cheese. But if you need inspiration at such times, feel free to think of me on one of my yoga mats, learning, at this late date, to breathe.